Breastfeeding of low-birth-weight infants
Every year, more than 20 million infants are born weighing less than 2500 g – over 96% of them in developing countries. These low-birth-weight infants are at increased risk of neonatal morbidity and mortality.
Breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant. Breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life. Breastfeeding further protects against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence.
Evidence suggests that initiation of breastfeeding in the first day of life is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of neonatal mortality when compared with delaying breastfeeding for more than 24 hours after birth.
Low-birth-weight infants who are able to breastfeed should be put to the breast as soon as possible after birth when they are clinically stable, and should be exclusively breastfed until six months of age.
This is one of several WHO recommendations on feeding of low-birth-weight infants. The full set of recommendations can be found in 'Full set of recommendations' and in the guideline, under ‘WHO documents’ below.